Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Fight for Seabird Includes Old-Growth Forests

EUGENE, Ore. (CN) — The Audubon Society of Portland, which led the fight to protect the marbled murrelet, says the Oregon Board of Forestry is not doing enough to protect the old-growth forest the seabird needs to survive.

The marbled murrelet is a chunky relative of puffins. Little was known about it until recent decades, partly because it nests high up in trees in old-growth, coastal forests. Logging is considered the major threat to the bird's survival.

The Audubon Society of Portland asked Oregon to list the murrelet as endangered in 1988, and has advocated for the bird and its habitat since. The bird has state and federal protections today, because the Audubon Society sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1991, winning protection for the bird as a threatened species in 1992. A recovery plan was announced in 1997, but the society has intervened in two lawsuits in recent years to stop the murrelet from being delisted.

The Audubon Society and three other environmental groups asked the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife this year to list the bird as endangered, rather than threatened.

"The primary reason marbled murrelets are listed as a threatened species is the loss of older coastal forests that provide marbled murrelet nesting and breeding habitat," the groups say in their Sept. 30 lawsuit against the Oregon Board of Forestry, in Lane County Court.

They accuse the Board of Forestry of "more than 20 years of inaction" on its nondiscretionary duty to protect the bird on public and private forests. They asked the board to conduct a resource site inventory for the murrelet and find ways to protect nesting sites.

The board denied the petition, which the groups say violates the board's duty to inventory the bird's habitat.

"The primary cause of forest loss and resulting marbled murrelet population declines is commercial timber harvest and related wind throw or blow down of trees, fire, and other natural events. In addition to the direct removal of marbled murrelet nesting habitat, logging also fragments marbled murrelet nesting habitat and increases edge effects, which leads to the increased risk of nest predation and tree blow down," according to the complaint.

Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild, and the Center for Biological Diversity are co-plaintiffs.

They seek declaratory judgment that the board's refusal of their rulemaking petition was illegal, and want it ordered to take an inventory of nesting sites and develop rules to protect it.

They are represented by Nicholas Cady and Daniel Kruse, both of Eugene.

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